Moments after a desperation three-point attempt by South Dakota State’s Brayden Carlson came up short at the buzzer, Hofstra’s players celebrated their 66-63 victory with a boisterous group hug that only ended when they all crashed into the press table Friday night at the Mack Sports Complex.
Who could blame them? After starting the season with a 29-point road loss at Monmouth and another 29-point blowout at Purdue, a crisis of confidence would have been understandable. But the Pride (1-2) fought back to beat a very tough South Dakota State (1-2), which lost its opener by a mere three points at Alabama. The Crimson Tide (4-0) blew out Villanova, 77-55, to win the 2K Sports Classic Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
With NBA prospect Nate Wolters at guard, the Jackrabbits have a very good chance to come out of the Summit League to make the NCAA Tournament in March. So, they figured to be a tough out in the three games being played this weekend at Hofstra by the teams eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the 2K Sports Classic.
It definitely helped the Pride that transfer guard Taran Buie was eligible to play for the first time, and he scored 11 of his 14 points in the first half and gave coach Mo Cassara an effective three-guard combination along with starters Stevie Mejia (14 points) and Shaquille Stokes (9 points), whose game-winning three-pointer with three seconds left sparked the celebration that ensued after the buzzer.
“A week ago, we lost by 29 at Monmouth,” Cassara said. “Tonight, we beat a [potential] NCAA Tournament team with an NBA pick. The energy and passion was phenomenal. I give this team so much credit for the way they battled back this week…That [South Dakota State] team is going to win 25, 26 games this season. That was a great win for us.”
After turning the ball over 40 times in their first two games, the Pride cut its turnovers to 10 against the Jackrabbits. Mejia had just one in 37 minutes, and Buie had one in 25 minutes.
Asked what made the difference, Stokes, who had two turnovers in 28 minutes, said, “We got tired of running wind sprints.”
That drew a big laugh in the postgame press conference, but he wasn’t kidding.
As Mejia said of the past week, “It was tough going 0-2 by how many points we lost. Coach said we might as well be in shape if we’re going to turn the ball over. He made us work.”
It paid off with a confidence-boosting win, and the addition of Buie to the roster was a big lift. Forward Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel is eligible now, too, and will join the lineup as soon as he recovers from a knee injury.
Suddenly, life looks a light brighter for the Pride, who face District of Columbia University Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Mack and get Marshall on Sunday at 3 p.m..